2nd Round: Preview and Predictions

 

    Let’s set the scene…it’s 2012, The Vancouver Canucks have entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winner and have to face a Los Angeles Kings team who barely made it into the playoffs.  Everyone expected the Canucks to make short work of the Kings, instead, the Kings won the series handily and ended up losing a total of 4 games all postseason en-route to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.  Also, the Florida Panthers found themselves back in the postseason for the first time since 2000 and drew a first round match up with the New Jersey Devils.  The Panthers ended up losing game 6 in overtime and game 7 in double overtime to be bounced in the first round.  The Devils, the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, would then beat the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup, eventually losing to the Western Conferences’ 8th seed Kings.  Also in the first round, the Chicago Blackhawks would lose to the Phoenix Coyotes in 6 games, the Detroit Red Wings would lose in 5 games to the Nashville Predators, and the Boston Bruins were defeated by the Washington Capitals and a rookie goaltender by the name of Braden Holtby.  The second round also was the second time since 1996 that no Canadian teams would be involved in the playoffs after the first round.  Noticing any patterns here??

      So far in the 2016 playoffs, we have seen some very similar patterns to the 2012 playoffs.  No Canadian teams entered the playoffs, no Original 6 teams remain after the Blackhawks, Rangers, and Red Wings were defeated, and the Florida Panthers packed up their rats and went home after losing the last two games of their series against the New York Islanders in double overtime.  Oh, and that Braden Holtby guy?  He shutout the Philadelphia Flyers in game 1 and game 6 to help his Washington Capitals advance to the second round.  In fact, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the only remaining team left in these playoffs that have been apart of the Stanley Cup Finals in the past five years.

      It has been a chaotic start to the postseason and it is only going to get crazier.  One thing we know for sure is we will be getting a new Stanley Cup Champion and tons more can’t miss moments.  So what will happen in round 2?  Who will punch their tickets to the Conference Finals and be one more round closer to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup?  We will take a look into the second round and try to sort it all out.

EAST

    Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins – This is the dream match up of the second round.  This series is being dubbed by many as “Ovechkin vs Crosby 2,” but that is not what is going to dictate who will advance to the Easter Conference Finals.  When the two fresh faced superstars to be met for the first time in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, that was much the case.  This time around, it’s the quality of depth that each team has around their stars and how they have been performing.  In the Penguins first round carving of the New York Rangers, it was players like Tom Kuhnhackl, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary that came up big with timely points.  Rookie Matt Murray also came in and did an outstanding job between the pipes to shut down the Rangers offense.  For Washington, they had a tall task of taking on a hot Philadelphia Flyers team who had just lost their owner and was ready to take on the true underdog, fairy tale story of beating the top Capitals team and making a run of their own.  So what happened?  Braden Holtby slammed that book shut on his end.  On the other, they took advantage of power plays that the Flyers so graciously gave them, and they also got timely goals from the likes of Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera.  So while Crosby and Ovechkin will get a lot of the headlines and possibly some points, it is going to come down to the supporting cast, and right now Crosby, Malkin and Kessel will ride them into the Conference Finals.  Penguins in 7

    Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders – A series that is more than likely going to be cast into the shadows of the other match ups, but a series that really should’t be.  The New York Islanders survived round one and advanced after back to back double overtime wins.  At times it appeared they got out played by the Florida Panthers, but with huge saves from former backup goaltender and now red hot netminder Thomas Greiss and timely goals from captain John Tavares, the Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993.  The Tampa Bay Lightning come into the series shaking the sand off of themselves, as they have had just under a week off after finishing the Detroit Red Wings in 5 physical games.  The Lightning were carried by the new triplets; Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Alex Killorn in round one as they had a hand in nearly every point their team scored.  They will have to keep their heads up in this series however as the furiously feisty fourth line of the Islanders will be gunning for them.  Those grinders are none other then Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, and they have the ability to turn the tide of a game and series with one very physical shift.  Look for them to try to get on top of Tampa’s speedy forwards early in the series and try to set the tone.  If they can, and if Greiss can continue to play lights out, the crippled Lightning may strike out.  If the Lightning can drag the series on, or even close it out early, it will be once again by the glove hand of their goalie Ben Bishop.  Bishop stood tall and bailed his team out multiple times in the first round, but he could get some help in front if injured defense man Anton Stralman can return.  In what will be a weird series due to concerts, making the teams drag out their first 4 contests in a span of 10 days, I see the Lightning getting healthier and Ben Bishop coming up huge yet again in what will be a very fast, hard hitting, back and forth series.  Lightning in 7

WEST

      Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues – If you thought watching the Dallas Stars in these playoffs would be boring, you are dead wrong.  Dead might not be the most appropriate word to use, as they may have caused the faint of heart to buckle after their first round win over the Minnesota Wild.  The Stars looked dominate at times, with the Wild scratching their heads and wondering how in the world they could compete with their high tempo offense.  Then, as if the Stars seemed bored, they would give up multiple goals in a hurry and find themselves trying to scurry to the final horn.  They ultimately prevailed in a bizarre game 6 by the score of 5-4, a game however that they held a 4-0 lead going into the third period.  The St. Louis Blues got here after proving all of their doubters wrong, finally.  Up 3 games to 1 on their hated rival Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues were sitting pretty and one win away from moving on.  Then, it happened.  Like years before, the Blues could not close out the Blackhawks, and they came storming back, winning the next two games to force a high drama Game 7 in St. Louis.  All the pressure was on the Blues, and they played the game of a lifetime, defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champions in regulation 3-2.  Now, it’s about which team will put the past behind them and respond to the task at hand.  The Blues have to be able to move past their emotional Game 7 victory while the Stars need to tighten up their defense and play a full 60 minute game.  What could be worrisome for the Stars is the health of star forward Tyler Seguin and the inconsistent play of both goaltenders Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen.  Seguin was possibly rushed back into the lineup for Game 2 before his Achilles had fully healed, re-injured himself and hasn’t been on the ice since.  This should benefit the Blues who have had solid goaltending from Brian Elliot and come into the series as a healthy team.  Lethal forward Vladimir Tarasenko has been firing on all cylinders despite a dispute with head coach Ken Hitchcock during Game 6 of the first round.  The two won’t be disputing after Tarasenko and Co. fill the net with pucks and find themselves in the Conference Finals.  Blues in 6

      San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators –  One thing is for sure, if you believed these two would be matching up here, give yourself a hand.  The Sharks, like the Blues, had a tough mental hurdle to get by in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings.  The last two times the Sharks had exited the playoffs, it had been by the sticks of their rival Kings.  This year they were out to prove to themselves and all of the hockey world that they are a more complete team than ever before and could defeat the team that had two years prior reverse swept them.  Did they ever prove us all wrong.  The only game the Sharks lost came in overtime of game 4, then they finished the job in front of their own crowd in 5 games.  They did so by rolling a complete four lines and getting points from their big guns such as Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, and captain Joe Pavelski.  Then, in game 5, rookie Joonas Donskoi provided the punch.  They are a deep team and one that is looking hot at a much opportune time.  Speaking of opportunities, the Predators took advantage of their first ever Game 7 and defeated the Anaheim Ducks when almost nobody thought they could.  They too came out rolling four solid lines and really out Ducked the Ducks, playing a very physical brand of hockey and getting some dirty goals along the way.  Nashville won its first two games in Anaheim, then lost their next 3 games, only to close out the final two games when it mattered most.  Now they face another California team chomping at the bits to advance further in the playoffs.  Both goaltenders Martin Jones and Pekka Rinne were rock solid in the first round, both teams are deep with grit and skill, both teams were picked to lose in the first round.  The big difference in this series will be experience and core of the teams.  The Predators are a good team, but lack the more offensively gifted players down their line.  They will be a team that can learn from this series, but ultimately, the Sharks have a core group that has been close many times, they just haven’t been able to get over their mental hump.  This year they have, and this year, they can smell the blood.  Sharks in 6